Tuesday, 10/31/2023

The Crane Wife

Youhei was a poor farmer. One day he found a wounded bird at his door. Youhei brought the bird inside and cared for her until she was strong enough to fly away. The next day a mysterious woman showed up at Youhei’s house. They fell in love and eventually married.

Times were tough for Youhei and his wife, but she got a loom and wove fabric for them to sell. She produced unimaginably beautiful fabric, and Youhei sold it for a lot of money.

Youhei pressured his wife to make more fabric, even as her health mysteriously deteriorated. Youhei’s wife had made him promise never to open the door to her room while she was working, but he couldn’t resist. One day Youhei opened the door and saw a beautiful crane plucking her feathers to weave the fabric. Now that Youhei knew her secret, her magic was broken, and she flew away.

This story of the crane wife is an old Japanese fairy tale, but sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. Dr. George W. Archibald didn’t marry a crane, but he slept with one, danced with one and helped her get pregnant.

George is the founder of the International Crane Foundation. He started his foundation in 1973. At that time, there were fewer than 50 cranes in the wild and even fewer in captivity. One of these captive cranes was named Tex. Tex was raised with humans, and thought of herself as a human.

Since cranes were in danger of dying out, it was crucial for Tex to get pregnant. The problem was that Tex wasn’t attracted to other cranes. She needed a human surrogate mate, and George volunteered. He pulled a mattress into Tex’s pen, and they began to sleep together. They made a nest together out of hay. In the mornings, they would go for walks together and even danced together. George would flap his arms and jump around just like a crane to turn Tex on. Once in an excited state, researchers ran up behind her and artificially inseminated her.

Tex successfully gave birth to a son called Gee Whiz. Sadly Tex was killed by wild raccoons not long after Gee Whiz was born. George told this story on a famous talk show called the Tonight Show, which led people around the world to support Crane conservation. Gee Whiz went on to father many children of his own. While cranes are still endangered, they have increased in the past few decades in a large part due to the unlikely couple, George and Tex.


  • show up
    to arrive; to make an appearance
  • fall in love
    to develop a love for something or someone
  • times are tough
    the situation or life is hard or difficult, usually because of problems like not having enough money
  • truth is stranger than fiction
    sometimes real-life events can be more surprising or hard to believe than fictional stories
  • dying out
    becoming extinct
  • turn on
    to stimulate or excite, especially sexually or romantically
  • go on to (do something)
    to do something after completing something else

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